There are a multitude of reasons why the Mountaineers owe the Orange a giant knuckle sandwich Saturday at the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium.
Conventional wisdom says that the outcome of bowl games is often determined by which team has more motivation. Conventional wisdom would also tell you that the Syracuse Orange, who rallied to win five of their final six games (including a 45-26 pasting of the 9th ranked Louisville Cardinals and 31-27 win on the road against a Missouri team fighting for bowl eligibility in their first SEC season) just to get to the Pinstripe Bowl would have the edge over a Mountaineer squad that dropped 5 in a row after being ranked 4th in the country.
Hogwash. There are plenty of reasons why West Virginia will be primed to run and pass all over the Orange defense this year. That 4-point Vegas spread? Merely a tease to those casual gamblers who looked at Ryan Nassib's passing numbers, glanced at the Mountaineers' defensive stat sheet, then took out a second mortgage and bet it all on New York's College Team. WVU has had some success in 2012 when it comes to Oranges, and that trend isn't about to stop now.
You want motivation? Look no further than last year's 49-23 shellacking in the Carrier Dome in what should have been the last battle between these teams for the foreseeable future. Cuse tight end Nick Provo just caught another touchdown pass and I think parts of Geno Smith's jersey are still laying somewhere on the Carrier Dome turf after he spent most of the afternoon getting dumptrucked by Syracuse defenders. That Friday night game left a bad taste in the mouths of many players, and they're not about to forget the feeling at the end of that game.
As if that game wasn't enough, there's always the 2010 meeting in Morgantown where the Orange stunned a WVU homecoming crowd by beating the Mountaineers 19-14, thanks to 3 Geno Smith interceptions and the 5 sacks he took. In two career games against Cuse, Geno has 3 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and has been sacked 9 times thanks to Syracuse's relentless "dial-a-blitz" pressure packages. The fact that he spent the entire summer studying Syracuse film in preparation for Big 12 play will only benefit the Mountaineer offense as they prep for whatever kitchen sink Doug Marrone chooses to throw at us this time around.
How about some history? Despite winning 8 in a row from 2002 to 2009, West Virginia trails the all-time series with Syracuse 27-32, including 0-1 in neutral site games (a 24-14 setback at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ in 1979). In what could be the last meeting between the schools in quite some time, a bowl win over the Cuse would go far in restoring some much-needed balance and bragging rights to this once-great series.
No matter the outcome, we know the Schwartzwalder Trophy won't be going anywhere, and that has to tee off some of the players and coaches. I know the folks at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magican think the Syracuse brass should put the trophy on the line, but no matter the reason (and there is some speculation that bowl officials didn't want a distraction for the game) you have to wonder whether the Orange aren't a little bit scared that they might never see the thing again. No matter. What better way to remind them that their last-ever game against West Virginia was a loss than to have the Schwartzwalder Trophy proudly displayed in their trophy case when they didn't even earn it.
And finally, there's the not-so-small matter of Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey (and a host of other seniors like Tavon Austin, Shawne Alston, Josh Jenkins, Ryan Clarke and J.D. Woods) playing together for the very last time. Think about that: Geno and Stedman have been on the same team every year since high school, and unless some NFL team decides they really love that chemistry, that relationship is coming to an end this Saturday. No way, no how, do those guys let their last game together result in anything less than a victory.
So for those of you lamenting the Pinstripe Bowl and the Mountaineers' chances for a win to cap off an otherwise disappointing season, take heart. Motivation is a fickle thing, but it runs deep in the veins of this year's Mountaineer squad. For the heartbreaks of years past, for the Schwartzwalder Trophy, and for the legacy of Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and company, WVU REALLY owes Syracuse. I hope they like mimosas in the Bronx, because the Mountaineers are going to blast Syracuse, then throw a party with what's left of them. WVU 56, Syracuse 27. Let's go...